31 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Where Rains Are a Nightmare

WHILE the heavy rains that have pounded most parts of the country have promised plenitude, they are certainly not such a boon for pupils at Mt Darwin's Tsenga Primary School. The rains certainly present a nightmare not only as they drench the poor kids on their way to and from school: they do not spare them in the makeshift mud-and-pole classrooms that make their satellite school. With feet submerged in mud and no adequate furniture, the children have no option but to acquire education under these harsh conditions.

All their enterprising parents could do was to put up these rudimentary structures which, without roofs, or leaking roofs if any and without cement floors, only but leave the children at the mercy of the elements. Tsenga Primary School, a satellite centre for Chiswiti Primary School some 10km adrift, is located about 80km from Mt Darwin Centre and has an enrolment of 330 pupils from Grade One up to Four.

Most of the pupils walk for more than 10km to school and they come from surrounding areas such as Tsenga, Mupapa, Gweja and Mutasa.

"Our situation is terrible and as you can see the children have no option but to learn with feet submerged in the mud," said the school's deputy headmaster Mr Wonder Guruza.

"Our plight worsens during the rainy season as there will not be adequate shelter to protect the pupils, staff and the few books that we have."

He said a significant number of children drop out of school during the rainy season.

"They are afraid of coming to school because the environment is not conducive. The rains can start anytime and there is nowhere to find shelter because our thatched roofs sometimes cannot stand the heavy rains," he said.

"Moreover, it is dangerous to keep the pupils when such weather conditions are prevailing."

And the teachers are not spared, either. With mud-and-pole rondavels that have sagging and leaking roofs, and having to cook outside when it is not raining while they have to bath in the open and having to share a single grass latrine, staff at the school have a hard time. There are four female and four male teachers at Tsenga. Teachers shun the school because of poor housing and lack of other amenities such as running water, electricity and health facilities.

Mr Guruza said it is a "mammoth task" to lure teachers to the school.

He explained: "The teachers are not willing to join us because of the living and working conditions. There are no incentives to entice them and it is a mammoth task to get the staff a teaching staff like the one we have at the moment."

Help has been elusive for the beleaguered school.

The headmaster said the local Member of Parliament for the area, Dickson Mafios, was aware of the situation while donors had promised them learning materials, although nothing has materialised for the past five or so years.

"We are still to hear from them," said the hopeful head. "The MP promised to build a block and we are still waiting for that and donors like World Vision had promised to help with other building and learning materials and we eagerly await the same," he said.

The traditional leader of the area, Shoti Kanzou who is Chief Chiswiti, appealed to Government to intervene saying child education in his area was under threat. "Every child has a right to education but there is no hope if the children are learning under such conditions," he said.

"Children are the future leaders of the country but the future is doomed if the children do not get support." Chief Chiswiti said the children faced a bleak future as their parents and guardians lack the means to fund their education.

"What else can the parents do when they do not have the money? Of course, they can mould bricks but there is no money to buy the materials for moulding like cement. The school needs support because it is helping a lot of people from surrounding areas," he said.

Education, Sport, Arts and Culture Minister David Coltart noted that the situation at Tsenga was emblematic of the problems with most satellite schools. He said it was "uneconomic" to build schools in scarcely populated areas.

"Satellite schools are one of the greatest problems we have in the education sector. The physical structures at those schools need to be upgraded but there are additional problems in doing so.

"The class sizes are too small because while the optimum teacher to pupil ratio at normal schools is 1:40 at satellite that ratio might be 1:15 and you will find that it is uneconomical to build a school in such an area."

He said Government should adequately support the education sector.

"We cannot also talk of building schools when we can't maintain existing ones. In essence I have commissioned investigations into satellite schools to find answers on how best we can deal with satellite schools. The investigations are being done under the auspices of the Education Transition Fund.

"I think after the investigation we will be able to understand the extent of the problem and come up with recommendations," he said.

The ETF is a joint venture between Government and the donor community aimed at mobilising funding for the education sector. The country has more than 700 satellite primary and secondary schools, most of them established after the Land Reform Programme in 2000. Because of appalling learning conditions most of the satellite schools record very low passes. Most of these satellite schools operate from tobacco barns, disused mine buildings and old chicken runs.

Children in these schools are exposed to extremely harsh learning conditions with no furniture and educators. In fact, it brings to question the country's subscription to the universally accepted norm that: "Every child has a right to an education."

For the rural child, poverty is real as many of their parents or guardians cannot afford providing them with school fees and even a decent meal. Teachers' Union of Zimbabwe chief executive Mr Manuel Nyawo said it was Government's responsibility to ensure that satellite schools have proper infrastructure. "Government should ensure that there are adequate learning facilities and qualified teachers in order to meet the United Nations set standards on education," he said.

"The schools are serving a purpose because they are catering for disadvantaged communities."

According to the Zimbabwe Education Act, all children have the right to education yet problems subsist in Government's endeavour to provide the same, although Zimbabwe is ranked the top literate nation in Africa.

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